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Kitchen of the Week: A Colorful 1951 Belgian Design Classic Masterfully Updated

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Kitchen of the Week: A Colorful 1951 Belgian Design Classic Masterfully Updated

April 18, 2024

“It was a coup de foudre, love at first sight,” says Francis Strobbe by way of explaining how he and his wife, Idalie Vandamme, came to own a midcentury Brussels landmark. The couple stumbled upon their place while house hunting, and now live with their two kids in architect Willy Van der Meeren’s 1951 first residential commission.

Van der Meeren, who is known for his use of bold blocks of color and considered one of Belgium’s greatest modernists, designed most of the furnishings, too. “So it was a total concept,” adds Francis. Except, of course, changes had been made over the years. Francis and Idalie–he’s a data scientist, she has a leather bag line—are only the third owners and were committed to recapturing their house’s original punch. Not surprisingly, the kitchen was the room most in need. The hitch was that they weren’t able to uncover plans or old photos, and any departures from the original state required permits.

The couple enlisted architect Arthur Verraes of Atelier Avondzon for the job. They had discovered Verraes’s work on Instagram and are proud of the fact that, like Van der Meeren, this was his first independent project. Is an orderly gridwork of color in the kitchen for you? Come see.

Photography by Séverin Malaud, courtesy of Atelier Avondzon.

known as the moreau house, the structure has a façade of of visible concre 17
Above: Known as the Moreau House, the structure has a façade of of visible concrete floor slabs and blocks, which also required restoration. The house was initially two stories; Van der Meeren was recruited by his original clients to add the third floor in 1962.
the kitchen is set in the back overlooking the garden and opens to a terrace wi 18
Above: The kitchen is set in the back overlooking the garden and opens to a terrace with its original black tiles. Verraes found their match (Uni Black Porcelain Stoneware Tiles from Zahna of Germany) and continued the exterior flooring indoors.
glass doors lead to a dining room and kitchen divided by a pass through. the pa 19
Above: Glass doors lead to a dining room and kitchen divided by a pass-through. The painted plywood overhead cabinets are original but required shoring up.
  the bones of the kitchen were intact, but the lower cabinets, counters,  20
Above:  The bones of the kitchen were intact, but the lower cabinets, counters, and floor had been replaced (scroll to the end for a glimpse of what it looked like not very long ago). Atelier Avondzon worked with designer/furniture makers Atelier Dehaene Seynaeve on the updates—”they’re architects by training, which made them a great match for this project,” says Verraes. The canted upper cabinets were newly painted to match the shades of yellow, blue, and white found elsewhere in the house.
&#8\2\20;we strived for a practical but timeless solution that doesn&#8 21
Above: “We strived for a practical but timeless solution that doesn’t outdo the beautiful upper cabinets,” says Verraes of the new lower cabinets—they’re birch plywood in a finish that matches other woodwork in the house. He describes the tiled toe kicks as a modernist detail: “We deliberately wanted the tile to continue in the plinth of the furniture so as not to make the base cabinets look too recent.”

Verraes faced multiple challenges updating the space: “What was decomposed had to be restored exactly as it was, and what wasn’t clear had to be submitted for approval. Since the latter is open to interpretation, it’s quite a complex and difficult process with lots of consultation and adjustments.”

the new custom counter is stainless steel that rises to meet the original backs 22
Above: The new custom counter is stainless steel that rises to meet the original backsplash of Belgian Marbrite tiles made of a post World War II type of milk glass.
the lower cabinets are detailed with handles of solid maple. 23
Above: The lower cabinets are detailed with handles of solid maple.
an aeg induction range was slotted into the new lineup. 24
Above: An AEG induction range was slotted into the new lineup.
the new cabinets and sink integrate well with the original kitchen window. the  25
Above: The new cabinets and sink integrate well with the original kitchen window. The stainless steel basin has a Franke Orbit faucet. The cabinets on either side of the sink conceal the dishwasher and fridge (the latter’s size was a concession Francis says they were happy to make to preserve the kitchen layout—they keep a full-size fridge in a nearby utility room). The sconce is Le Corbusier’s Lampe de Marseille.
the electrical outlets and switches are from thg. verraes describes his commiss 26
Above: The electrical outlets and switches are from THG. Verraes describes his commission as “taking care of the kitchen,” and says, “It was a quest to find something functional that didn’t clash with the original wall units, was practical to use, and harmonious as a whole.”

Before

a glimpse at the existing lower cabinets, counter, and floor, all of which were 27
Above: A glimpse at the existing lower cabinets, counter, and floor, all of which were not-so-new additions.
the sink corner was in particular need of finessing. 29
Above: The sink corner was in particular need of finessing.
the overhead cabinets had been repainted in shades that slightly departed from  31
Above: The overhead cabinets had been repainted in shades that slightly departed from the original palette, but the interior shelving was intact.

Here are three more standout kitchens with midcentury style:

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Frequently asked questions

Who are the owners of the midcentury Brussels landmark?

Francis Strobbe and his wife, Idalie Vandamme, are the owners of the midcentury Brussels landmark.

Who designed the landmark and most of the furnishings?

Architect Willy Van der Meeren designed the landmark and most of the furnishings.

Who did the couple enlist to update their kitchen?

The couple enlisted architect Arthur Verraes of Atelier Avondzon to update their kitchen.

What were the challenges faced by Verraes in updating the space?

Verraes faced challenges in restoring decomposed elements exactly as they were and having unclear elements approved by the heritage agency.

What material is the new custom counter made of?

The new custom counter is made of stainless steel.

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